Propane Autogas – Conversions and Infrastructure

Va. County Succeeding With Propane Autogas

June 09, 2016, by Roselynne Reyes

Photo courtesy of Chesterfield County
Photo courtesy of Chesterfield County

Chesterfield County, Va., has saved more than $30,000 in fuel costs and gained more than $35,000 in IRS rebates in less than three years with a fleet greening initiative that has focused on replacing diesel- and gasoline-powered trucks with vehicles that run on propane autogas.

Through his Sustainable Fleet Vehicle Replacement Program, Fleet Manager Jeff Jeter and his department were also able to downsize the county fleet and right-size vehicles by shifting to four-cylinder powerplants.

Jeter began looking at ways to improve operations and cut costs for the Fleet Services Department, which manages more than 2,500 vehicles, four maintenance facilities, and motor pool operations.

"I had done a lot of investigating on different types of alternative fuel, what would be best for our county," Jeter said. "After looking at everything, I decided that propane autogas would be the best for us. It was the easiest to get implemented, very little cost to the shops."

He was able to use an existing state contract which meant no additional fuel or infrastructure costs for his department. All he had to do was get the program started. Jeter met with a number of departments within the county to find someone interested in participating. Finally, the police department agreed — but it had concerns about funding. Jeter agreed to fund the first upfitting of vehicles out of his existing budget, coming out to $60,000 in work. After two and a half months, the program saved more than $2,500 in fuel costs and IRS rebates.

"After the first year of that pilot program, we started venturing out to other departments," he said. "I did a lot of my service vehicles that fleet services uses. Other departments started seeing my service trucks and vans and then they came on board."

(L-R) Pictured are Technical Analyst Ashley Cooper, Jeter, and Environmental Health Safety Manager Michele Ervin. Photo courtesy of Chesterfield County
(L-R) Pictured are Technical Analyst Ashley Cooper, Jeter, and Environmental Health Safety Manager Michele Ervin. Photo courtesy of Chesterfield County

After the success with the police department, Jeter worked with the school district to upfit a few school buses to use propane autogas. The program was so successful that two buses turned to 22 after a year, with significant savings in fuel and especially in maintenance. The county was paying hefty fees for their school buses' harmful emissions, and since the program began, Fleet Services is now saving about $2 million per year on maintenance for the buses alone.

In addition to fitting vehicles for propane autogas, Fleet Services also took the time to analyze the vehicles currently being used. Jeter and his department began meeting with every department looking to replace one of its vehicles to analyze whether a smaller vehicle would get the job done, cutting fuel costs further.

"We're trying to downsize our fleet as much as possible while still being able to complete our mission," Jeter said. "We've gone from the big V-8s to V-6s and from six cylinders to four cylinders. We want to make sure that we're buying the right vehicle for the job and eliminating the vehicles that we don't need."

As a result of this program, Chesterfield County was one of the first fleets to receive accreditation in NAFA's Fleet Sustainable Program and received additional recognition from Chesterfield County and Government Fleet. He was also a finalist at NAFA's Fleet Excellence Awards this year. In addition, Chesterfield County received over $225,000 in rebates through the Commonwealth of Virginia's Alternative Fuels Vehicle Program.

Jeter said he plans to continue fitting vehicles from Chesterfield's fleet, including some vehicles from the county sheriff's department and the school board's maintenance vehicles. He also noted that this program wouldn't have grown as quickly as it did without the support of county leadership.

"We were not mandated for this; this was my initiative because it's just the right thing to do," he said.

Next, Jeter hopes to grow the sustainability program by incorporating a couple of electric vehicles in the county's motor pool program. He is also working with the Virginia Clean Cities program to ensure that enough charging stations are being built in the area.

"We've got to reduce greenhouse gas, reduce dependency on foreign oil," Jeter says. "We looked at all of that stuff and decided that we need to educate our customers and this is what we need to do because it's the right thing. And that's what we did."

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